In a shocking revelation, former animal trainers at SeaWorld John Hargrove and Jeffrey Ventre have said that the whales at popular theme parks were routinely drugged and deprived of food. They even self-harmed as a result of the psychological trauma they suffered. SeaWorld has long battled claims about the conditions its captive killer whales are kept in, including allegations that the mammals suffer such acute stress that they become ill, aggressive and die early.
The recent revelations have come in the wake of popular holiday planners Virgin Holidays ending partnerships with attractions like SeaWorld and Discovery Cove. The company said it would no longer have packages which include shows by captive whales and dolphins.
The trainers say that food deprivation is used as a motivator for the whales to perform various stunts and the stress even cause stomach ulcers, which in turn leads to keeping them on antibiotics. Reports also suggest that at times, when these whales are aggressive or hard to control, they are given Valium to calm their aggression.
Capturing such mammals and making them do stunts to entertain humans – is it even necessary when there are infinite other options for us to get entertained? A water theme park is meant to have various water-based rides and other entertainment programmes, which can be easily done without torturing living beings that belong to an entirely different habitat. Then, why are such practices followed even today and why do people flock to such places. Is the lack of awareness among people about the training methods the reason? What could be the possible solutions to the issue?
We seek the opinions of activists, trainers and public.
Tradition, money reasons
There are two reasons why such practices still exists even in India. One reason is tradition. There are beliefs attached to them and people just blindly follow them. For instance, there is this traditional sport Jallikattu. People are not aware of the other side of all that momentary entertainment, which is the pain an animal goes through during barbaric training sessions. Whaling is carried out by indigenous people in Canada just to keep the tradition alive. Economy is another aspect due to which animals still get used. We need to understand that we cannot provide an artificial ocean to a species that belongs to the ocean. The owners of these places just make truckloads of money and the visitors get a false impression that fine in “big aquariums.” But eventually, it is only the animal that suffers. Performance of animals should be completely stopped.
– Arun Prasanna G, Animal welfare activist
Do unto others what...
We get a little muscle twist and we start crying. Why? Simply because it hurts. It hurts them too. They may not be human beings, but certainly are living beings. We can't imagine ourselves being treated like that, then why do we treat them like that? Entertainment means having fun, but if it comes at the cost of someone's pain, then it's a crime. Everyone should stop acting aloof on this topic. Otherwise in the future, there will barely be any whales left to “entertain”.
– Shriya Sachdeva, Postgraduate
Celebrities can bring awareness
This has been an industry standard for long. No matter how hard even expert trainers try, it is impossible to train a wild animal like how you would train a dog for instance. Wild animals hold on to their instincts; it’s ingrained in them. To keep them in control, such unethical ways are used. There is a serious lack of awareness and I feel that celebrities can help in this regard. When Novak Djokovik went vegan after announcing it publicly, many people started following him. Another way to spread awareness is through movies. If we make documentaries like how NatGeo or Discovery does, then people all over the world will be aware of the need for animal protection. Apart from this, tourism department in general should take up initiatives to ensure that wild animals are not being used as a source of entertainment.
– Amit Shroff, an animal rescuer and activist
The solution is public awareness
As long as people visit such places, these things are not going to stop. Creating awarness among the public regading the attrocities and cruelty done to these animals and mammals in order to entertain us is the most effective way to stop such acts. It’s high time people understand that torturing a dolphin or a whale that independently lives its life in waters to do stupid stunts or even training elephants, horses or camels for safaris is a henious crime. Wild animals are not allwed in circuses nowadays ,even then people go and watch it. In the same way, there should not be any problem to smoothly run a water theme park without stunts from these poor mammals.
– Sally kannan, animal activist
Tourists should question
I believe, as do most members of the conservation fraternity, that holding animals captive, simply for the sake of public entertainment, is a malafide practice that should be made a thing of the past. Time and again we hear
gut-wrenching stories of unthinkable abuse, emanating from the hushed corridors of these supposedly ‘benevolent’ spaces. While regulatory bodies do exist on paper, their lack of intent is easy to grasp, given the high financial stakes underlying the entire matter. And this is where the average tourist can wield greater influence, by keeping their eyes and ears open to the plight of these animals by questioning the source of the unnatural behaviour they consume unthinkingly as entertainment.
– Indranil Datta, wildlife enthusiast
Regulatory bodies must act
The issue highlighted stands true. However, more concrete facts, say from any animal welfare organisation regarding past incidents of their rescue efforts, would increase gravity of the issue. It is surely possible that people are not aware of such training methods or they are just indifferent because it doesn’t affect them anyhow. I think regulatory bodies need to take serious measures to check such practices. Welfare organisations and media should try to spread awareness among the public.
– Kalpa Saraswat, Finance Analyst